In Part Two of the 1980s pitching roundtable, the panel discusses pitching inside, and the strike zone. Part One appeared yesterday.
1980s PITCHING ROUNDTABLE [Part Two]: BUD BLACK, DANNY DARWIN, MIKE FLANAGAN, GREG MADDUX, JON MATLACK AND BOB WALK.
ON PITCHING INSIDE TO INTIMIDATE HITTERS:
Bud Black: I don’t know if “intimidate” is the right word; I don’t know if there’s more. I think there’s still as much pitching inside today as there was, but back then there wasn’t as much hullabaloo if you did. Now the hitters make a bigger deal of it. You didn’t have that same reaction back in the ‘80s.
Danny Darwin: I think that pitchers pitched inside more in the 80s than they do today and a lot of that stems from if you throw a ball inside today, it seems like you get a warning. The players policed the game themselves back then. At least for me, I don’t know if the guys were maybe more hard-nosed, but you know — you have brawls nowadays, but back then the players policed themselves. We hit a guy, you hit a guy, and it’s over with. I think it’s just the nature of the game.
Mike Flanagan: I think that people like to think that they did. As far intimidating hitters, maybe it was the organization I was with, but the Orioles didn’t believe in doing it, and I think we averaged 90 wins a year during that period. We didn’t get involved in bean-ball wars and that sort of thing. If one of our guys got hit, Earl Weaver would do something that, looking back, I think was terrific – he would stand in the dugout and say, “Look, we can’t afford to get in a bean ball war and lose Eddie Murray, or any of our better players, over this one incident.” We wouldn’t forget about it, but it was “let’s go out and beat them,” because we had more to lose than they did.
Greg Maddux: I think they were allowed to. I think the rules started changing during the ‘80s to where they didn’t let the pitchers pitch inside as much as they used to. Warnings are given a lot earlier now; fines are given. You can get fined for throwing the ball inside, where before, jeez, you could start a fight and you wouldn’t get fined.
Jon Matlack: Did pitchers throw inside more? No question, but more so in the ‘70s than in the ‘80s. Umpires today, I almost believe, are taught not to call the inside pitch as prevalently as the outside pitch, hoping to lead the pitchers away from the inside part of the plate, and ultimately away from confrontation. There’s much less ability to pitch inside and control the inside part of the plate to keep people from diving across the plate than you used to see. That’s probably largely because the kids coming out of amateur ball nowadays are taught largely to miss the bat more so than to intimidate the hitter.
Bob Walk: The umpires allowed it more, especially in the National League, because the pitcher had to come to the plate. It was policed much better. If a pitcher was taking liberties, he had to come up and take his medicine, and I think that the umpires kind of stayed out of the situation much more. Nowadays you get a couple of hitters complaining, a manager complains, there’s a warning, and you get thrown out of the game pretty quickly. You can’t be a physical intimidator any more.
ON THE STRIKE ZONE:
Bud Black: I think the strike zone has changed since the 1980s. It gradually started getting bigger in the ‘90s, and now I think it has shrunk. The advent of technology has maybe made the umpires a little more guarded on expanding it, so it has scaled back.
Danny Darwin: I really don’t believe that it has (changed). The only thing that I ever noticed about the strike zone was that – and I was able to play in both leagues – I thought the strike zone was a little lower in the National League. With today’s umpires, I think maybe you might get the higher strike a little better than you did back then. When I first came up they used the balloon (chest protector). Nowadays the umpires are able to get over the catchers and see the strike zone better.
Mike Flanagan: It was definitely smaller. It was smaller and it was lower. Pitchers will get the call today on a high curveball, which was never called back then. It was a gripe of ours in the 1980s, because a hanging curveball is one of a hitter’s favorite pitches, yet if he takes it, it’s a ball. Today it’s a strike.
Greg Maddux: The strike zone has changed a lot. The umpires have changed, and when the umpires changed, the strike zone changed as well. The strike zone is pretty standard now; it’s pretty much the same for every guy. I think that back then there was a little leeway given to the older players as opposed to the younger players. Today, it pretty much doesn’t matter who is throwing or who is hitting.
Jon Matlack: I think it’s different. The rules have changed as they’ve tried to emphasize different things from when I was pitching. I almost feel like there are more pitches called as they’re caught as opposed to where they are crossing the plate, nowadays. That’s just a feeling from what I see. I do believe that there are fewer strikes called on pitches on the inside part of the plate than there used to be. The strike zone has come up a little bit, but it’s also come up around the knees where it used to be that more that the bottom part of the knee was a strike. There aren’t many of those called anymore.
Bob Walk: Yeah, it’s gotten a little higher and a little narrower in my opinion. I think that it’s come up, especially in the last few years when they’ve started trying to get the umpires to call that higher strike a little bit more. And I don’t think that it’s as wide as it used to be. Especially if you were a veteran pitcher and had been around for awhile, you used to get the corners a lot more than you do nowadays. I think that a lot of it has to do with the leagues, because there are no National League umpires and American League umpires, they’ve kind of brought them together. When that happened is about the time I started seeing that the plate wasn’t quite as wide as it used to be.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.